square-stroke-400x400Is the story of broadband in America an unappreciated and underreported success story that reflects that sad truth behind the over used trope: “if it bleed it leads”? 

An advocate of the broadband success story, Comcast’s David Cohen, presented the following data in a May 23rd op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer arguing that broadband services have, in fact, been an unheralded success story:[i]

  • 94 percent of Americans have access to wired high-speed Internet service (the highest percentage in the world).
  • 90 percent of Americans have a choice when selecting their fixed or mobile broadband provider.
  • 82 percent of U.S. homes have access to speeds in excess of 100 megabits per second (mbps). In Europe only 2 percent of the population has access to these speeds.
  • America is first in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in broadband subscribers and users, third in wired competition options, and sixth in access to 10 mbps connectivity.
  • Top residential broadband speeds in the United States have increased 19-fold in the last six years, and America is among the leaders in affordability for entry-level service tiers.
  • Notwithstanding all these speed increases, consumer prices have remained relatively stable. U.S. consumers pay 87 percent less per mbps today than they did 11 years ago.

Or, is America falling behind and lagging our competitors in broadband, rollout, price and access. This position is neatly summarized by the “captive audience” argument, as summarized by this passage in Dr. Susan Crawford book of the same title:

Even though a core function of the modern state is to provide certain goods and services that are in the public interest- such as transpiration, communication, clear water, sewage systems, and electricity – the complexities of modern-day application and devices, and the enormous market and political power of both wired and wireless carriers, have been allowed by U.S. policy leaders to create a spectacularly dismal national communication infrastructure.[ii]

Whose argument does the data support?  And, if the data support the arguments that the U.S. broadband story is a “spectacular failure,” does this argue for Dr. Crawford’s proposed remedy, which is: “Without a strong, sympathetic, authoritative policy [from the federal government], the development of widespread, low-cost, very-high speed Internet access will not happen”.

EconoSTATS’ mission is to comprehensively examine the hard data that should be driving controversial public debates. In the next couple of months, we will be examining the broadband industry to answer these questions as they relate to the growth and current state of broadband in the United State in terms of price, availability and access.

Given the vast gulf between the technological world view and policy proscriptions of the various camps, as represented by Crawford and Cohen, it promises to be an interesting exploration.

Wayne Winegarden, Ph.D. is a contributing editor to EconoSTATS

[i] “U.S. The Leader on Broadband” by David L. Cohen, on Philly.com (articles.philly.com/2013-05-24/news/39478428_1_broadband-connectivity-mbps-access)

[ii] “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age” by Susan Crawford, page 268, Yale University Press

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